In the preceding days, the NCAA tournament's wild West Region had watched its top teams fall, one after another, from top-seeded Gonzaga...
DAYTON, Ohio — In the preceding days, the NCAA tournament’s wild West Region had watched its top teams fall, one after another, from top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 3 New Mexico to No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin.
There would be no similar upset Sunday at University of Dayton Arena. Ohio State junior Aaron Craft made sure of that.
With the score tied late and the clock winding down in the Buckeyes’ game against Iowa State, Craft was eerily calm near the top of the key. “I saw him get in his rhythm with each dribble,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta would later say. The Buckeyes’ junior guard barely seemed to notice the seconds ticking rapidly off the clock. In one quick motion, he stepped up and fired the three-pointer that would keep Ohio State’s tournament hopes alive.
Craft’s clutch basket with only 0.5 of a second left clinched a 78-75 win, sending the second-seeded Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight year. The Big Ten champions are riding a 10-game winning streak into their Thursday night matchup against No. 6 Arizona in Los Angeles.
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“Every kid dreams of moments like that,” Craft said. “Just very blessed to be in this situation with this group of guys.”
In the closing moments of Sunday’s game, Craft’s play was marked by a series of hard-to-believe plays, both the good and the bad. He accounted for two turnovers, whiffed on a layup, missed three free throws and was charged with a foul in the final five minutes.
“I’m not sure you completely shut that out. I was trying to fight it,” Craft said of his miscues. “The best thing is, we were still in the game. Those mistakes, fortunately, didn’t come back to haunt us.”
Craft also drew a controversial charge on Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim on the Cyclones’ last significant possession, sliding under the forward as he drove to the basket.
John Adams, the NCAA’s coordinator of officials, said in a statement that the official “determined (Craft) established legal guarding position.” But in an interview with CBS after the game, Adams essentially said that the official made an incorrect call.
When it mattered most, though, no one in the arena doubted that Craft would want to take the final shot.
“That’s who he is,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s been making those shots his entire time at Ohio State.”
“I was just trying to stay as calm and poised as possible,” Craft said. “The moment’s definitely bigger than me.”
The play was designed for a teammate, but when Craft noticed the Cyclones assigned their 6-foot-7 forward Georges Niang to guard him, the Buckeyes’ 6-2 guard made the snap decision to take advantage of the mismatch.
“It was tremendous basketball play,” Matta said. “He made a great read.”
La Salle 76, Mississippi 74
In Kansas City, Mo., Tyrone Garland banked home a scooping layup with two seconds left and 13th-seeded La Salle beat Mississippi, vaulting the Explorers to their deepest run in the NCAA tournament since they played for the championship in 1955.
Ramon Galloway had 24 points for La Salle (24-9), which was playing its third game in five days. No. 12 Ole Miss (27-9) led 74-72 with 1:58 left but failed to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.
After Tyreek Duren’s two foul shots tied it at 74 at the 1:07 mark, Marshall Henderson failed to hit an off-balance bank shot that would have given Mississippi the lead. Henderson had 21 points in game with 11 lead changes.
Murphy Holloway had 14 points for Mississippi, which fell one win shy of breaking the school record.